If Rita Ora was “really upset” about that little #ritawhora incident, she sure didn’t let it show during last night’s packed show at the Highline Ballroom in New York. The only possible nod to the drama came at the end of “Fair,” a bold Ester Dean-penned ballad about letting go, when she joked, “I should, right?” The aside may have made for a juicy gossip item, but we were too busy thinking she was sounding like Beyoncé to care.
Over the past few years Ora has become quite a celebrity, often seen out on the arm of Jay-Z or Rob Kardashian, a regular presence at fashion weeks round the world and a frequent subject on our Tumblr dashboards. And so its easy to forget that most of all she fancies herself a musician, and though you can’t buy it in American stores yet (next year, she promised), that she’s got a whole album full of songs that are generally pretty good. A bunch of them were written by the same people that write all the hits (Sia, Deen, Stargate, The-Dream, Drake), and more than a few of them might have her sounding an awful like Rihanna if it weren’t for one thing: Rita Ora can really sing.
Last night Ora played eleven songs (basially every song she’s got), and she ended almost every single one of them — those that don’t sound particularly “sung” on the album, like the accurately titled “Facemelt,” included — with an ear piercing vocal run, as if insistent on sending us home with our hearing impaired so we never forget that that girl Ora’s got a voice. She employed it to melt face, to get the party started (“How We Do,” “Radioactive”), to inspire (“Shine Ya Light,” “Love And War”) and quite sweetly to sing happy birthday to Stephanie. She also did an astonishingly good cover of Kendrick Lamar‘s “Swimming Pools,” because “Being from London and everything, I still know what’s ratchet.”
You get the sense that Ora may not know how where her places is yet (pop, rock, hip hop or the dancefloor), but it was evident last night that she’s got her best assets figured out. (Her flowy pj-top came off a few songs into her set, revealing a cropped and close-fitted black tank and another of her non-musical assets.)
Like her SOB’s show earlier this year, Ora was affable and eager, thanking the crowd for their support and saying things like “I’ve wanted to do this sh*t my whole life.” There was neither spectacle nor gimmicks (the evening’s opener, Iggy Azalea, pulled several game audience members onstage for a twerk-off halfway through her set), just Ora and her band performing the songs that they spent years in the studio making so that we might have fun.
Unlike her debut at SOB’s earlier this year, Ora’s mentor and most powerful champ, Jay-Z, showed. He walked in ten minutes before her set and stood close enough to the balcony railing to make his presence known, but he fell back when the cameraphone-weilding crowd raised a “Hova! Hova!” chant during “Clique.” It wasn’t his night. And so eventually the two bros in front of me pocketed their iPhones, returned their attention to the stage and threw their hands in the air — so it turned out, they knew all the words for “R.I.P.”
“How We Do (Party)”
“Roc The Life”
“Shine Ya Light”
“Hello, Hi, Goodbye”
“Love and War”